“For we have seen His star in the east and we are come to worship Him.” – Matthew 2:2
I don’t know about you, but Three Kings' Day wasn’t a 'thing' where I came from. We called it the Epiphany and to me it meant my Uncle Biff’s birthday and the sad ordeal of taking down the Christmas tree.
Happily, here on Mallorca, the celebration of The Day of the Three Kings, Els Reis in the local tongue, means we all get to enjoy the holiday season just a little bit longer, keeping cheer alive well into the first week of January. We even have a national holiday on this day.
Celebrated on 6th January every year, this day is in commemoration of the Magi or Three Wise Men who brought gold, frankincense and myrrh, pretty high-value items in those days, to bestow upon the newly born baby Jesus. The kings, called Melchior, Balthazar and Gaspar, travelled on horseback, by camel and on an elephant, and are thought to represent Europe, Africa and Arabia.
Over the centuries, different cultures have taken on their own ways to celebrate. For example, in France people eat a special cake called galette du Roi with a toy or fava bean is baked inside. Whoever finds it is blessed with good luck for the new year and gets to wear the paper crown that is supplied with every cake. The Portuguese take part in carol singing known as the Janeiras. Italian children are visited by an old woman called Belfana who fills the stockings of children who leave one out for her. In Germany, catholic priests walks round from door to door to bless all house and its inhabitants, chalking C*M*B (for Caspar, Melchior and Balthazar) on the doorframes as they go.
In America, as I mentioned before, they take down their trees, signifying the official end of the holiday season. And the Belgians have a sort of Halloween set up where kids dress up as the three kings and go door to door asking for sweets or cash.
Mallorca and the Magi #
There are many more lovely traditions celebrated around the world but, to me, none are as special as the way the Spanish splash out for the three wise men and the Mallorcans take it one step beyond.
Here on the island, children from another era celebrated Els Reis the way kids from other places celebrated Christmas. It was a day where gifts were exchanged, and fun was to be had. Today, the clever children here have learned to “double dip” and many families celebrate both days with gift giving, but even still, Three Kings Day is the bigger of the two. In fact, it is estimated that 70% of Mallorca’s locals prefer Three Kings to Christmas.
January 5th The Big Parade #
Mallorca’s children write to their favourite wise man rather than Father Christmas, telling him what it is he or she would like. On the 5th of January, children (and the odd adult too, I reckon) leave sweets, wine or milk out for the visiting king along with a polished shoe, who replaces the food items with gifts.
Then everyone heads out to celebrate. In almost every one of the island’s villages and towns parades are held, and the three wise men arrive using interesting modes of transportation. There are kings who arrive on boats in Port Andratx, horseback, motorcycle, tractor in Andratx and S'arraco, or in cabriolet cars to a name but a few. Wherever they arrive, they are met with cheers and enthusiasm from the bystanders braving the chilly winter night to be a part of the magic.
In Palma, where the biggest parade by far on the island is held, the magi disembark from the Rafael Verdera, a classic sailing vessel dating from the mid-1800s at the Moll Vell jetty. From there, they start the three kilometre route on stylised boats through Palma's streets with a retinue of floats, musicians, carnival performers and dancers in tow. People along the way join in, many wearing spectacular costumes and as they pass by the throngs of spectators, the wise men throw sweeties into the delighted crowd…5,000 kilos of them last year! The parade ends at the Paseo del Borne.
It’s a hugely big deal and it’s said that the Palma City Council splashed out €250,000 last year on the extravaganza.
January 6th Opening the Presents #
The morning of the 6th, households wake up to the exciting task of opening the presents, followed by eating a breakfast of Roscón de Los Reyes, a donut-shaped cake topped with candied-fruits. A bean and a figurine of the baby Jesus are baked inside and the finder of each has two very different endings to the story. The finder of the figurine gets to be king or queen of the house for the day, the person who gets the bean is stuck buying the Roscón the following year. Needless to say, competition is fierce and strategies for deciding which piece of cake to take are elaborate.
Families then normally gather later in the day for a meal, where the kids can show off their new toys and parents can contemplate having to get back to work after the long holiday season.
Some villages, including Port Andratx, still honor the long-held tradition of having the priest present gifts at the church. This is especially fun to watch as the children and their families make the place come alive.
Join in the Fun! #
This day isn’t restricted to locals, though! Extending the happy energy of the holiday season and celebrating cultural traditions from the island are a wonderful way to integrate and become part of the ebb and flow of the island.
All in all, this is one holiday my family have been more than happy to adopt from our Mallorcan hosts…we hope you do it, too!
#threekingsdayspain #threekingsdaymallorca #threekingssdaypalma #threekingsdayparadepalma #epiphanymallorca #twelfthnightmallorca #elsreismallorca #elsreis
By Stephanie Horsman
4 January, 2021